Once we have completed a big race, the temptation is to give ourselves a good rest. In fact, taking a week off is actually essential to replenish your body after the work it went through. The difficulty can be that, once you have achieved your goal, your training no longer has the same level of direction or meaning. Because I had caught a cold, I ended up taking two and a half weeks off before I got out to run again.
And suddenly, I am out of the routine.
As I was struggling to do my regular 4.5 mile circuit yesterday, I was contemplating the difficult business of habit forming. Good habits always seem to be tough to instil. Bad habits seem to only take days and they are ensconced. It only took me 17 days to get out of the good habit of regular running, so I am back contemplating how to form the habit again.
There appear to be several elements:
- 21 days seems to be the accepted time it takes to form a habit. My feeling is that it can take anywhere up to 30 days. Several years back, I formed the habit of going to the gym every morning at 6.30am. The routine was made a lot easier by the fact that I had to be at work at 9.00 anyway, but I remember after a month I wasn’t exactly leaping out of bed, but I never had a problem getting to the gym. So habit forming requires the ability to stick at something for a period.
- There has to be some level of enjoyment involved. This is why I suspect bad habits are so easy to gain – generally because they are quite enjoyable. It isn’t difficult to get into the habit of eating chocolate every day after dinner, but getting back out of it is a lot harder. To form a running habit, you need to get some enjoyment out of it – whether it be out of the actual act of running, or the weight you are losing, or the strength you are gaining. It’s pretty difficult to put in the requisite month if you hate every second of it.
- There has to be some achievable goal involved – your habit must have some kind of a purpose. I know this is one of the reasons why I have so quickly got out of the running habit – I reached my goal and my next one seems a long way away. Put some interim goals in and the process will be easier.
- There is a bit of mental strength involved. However, if you can run a marathon – or any race at all really, then you know you have the mental fortitude to form the habit. If you can keep going through pain to cross the finish line within a certain time, you are pretty well prepared.
Now that summer is on its way in the Northern Hemisphere, a running habit isn’t such a difficult thing to re-form. I am going back to revisit my challenges. I am sure it won’t take long…I’ll report back in 21 days.
Mmmm…thank you to Sifu Renka for the picture